After you have a baby, your body might feel completely different. You've just created another human! You might feel like a completely different person. You have to re-train your body to move in ways that used to be so simple for you. You are recovering not only from having a baby but from the pregnancy itself. Your body changes and you aren’t quite sure what to do about it. You also have many things that get in the way of taking time out of your day to exercise and spend time on yourself. The challenges of being a new mom can make it difficult to find the time to exercise. Fatigue and sleep disturbance are common following childbirth and can decrease a mom’s motivation to get moving. Newborn sleep and feeding schedules in addition to balancing family responsibilities and work schedules can be overwhelming and can affect a mom’s desire to get moving. In some women this can lead to depression and there are numerous studies that suggest that childbearing may be a contributor to obesity.
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Regular exercise following childbirth is important and has multiple health benefits. The possible benefits of exercise in the postpartum period may include preventing obesity, promoting aerobic fitness and strength, optimizing bone health and improving mood or self-esteem.
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Improving aerobic fitness and strength can improve a mother’s ability to care for her child or children. Optimizing bone health can help to increase bone mineral density and possibly prevent lactation-associated bone loss in breastfeeding mothers. Exercising can help to improve mood and self-esteem which may help to decrease the risk of getting postpartum depression and anxiety. Another benefit of postpartum exercise is that the mother’s participation in regular exercise following childbirth may encourage regular physical activity habits in her children.
There are some general guidelines written for mother’s to follow during the initial 6 weeks postpartum and the year following childbirth. Mothers should resume their usual exercise routines gradually and based on the woman’s physical capabilities. Generally mom’s that experience an uncomplicated delivery will be allowed to resume normal activity 4-6 weeks after giving birth. Women who have a cesarean section will required a long duration of recovery with less activity during this time period. For the initial 6 weeks following childbirth the goals of exercising should be to obtain personal time and redevelop a sense of control. Exercise should begin slowly and increase exercise gradually and try to avoid excessive fatigue and dehydration.
Women who were active throughout their pregnancy may be able to resume their activities at a faster rate than those who were more inactive. Mom’s who were sedentary prior to pregnancy and during pregnancy may need to progress at a slower pace than those that were previously more active. Mother’s should have proper support for their abdomen and breasts and stop exercising to evaluate if they are in pain from the activity they are performing. It may be more comfortable for breastfeeding moms to pump or breastfeed prior to exercising. If bright red vaginal bleeding occurs and is heavier than a menstrual period medical attention is recommended. The goal of the exercise regimen during the first year following childbirth should be to improve physical fitness status. Women that are beginning a postpartum exercise program should obtain medical clearance, begin slowly and progress gradually. It is important to remain hydrated especially if breastfeeding.
It was recommended in one study reviewed that women exercise aerobically for 3 to 6 days per week, for 25 to 60 minutes - to supplement with muscle toning exercises and be creative when it is necessary to exercise with children. There are many ways to incorporate exercising with your infant. When it is difficult to find time to get out on your own to exercise, you can take a walk with your baby, join a mommy-baby exercise class or exercise at home while your baby is performing tummy time or napping. It's easier said than done, but you need to take time for yourself and find something that you will enjoy doing so that you stick with it even when it hard with all the responsibilities of a new mother. You will feel better if you can exercise and get yourself back.
There are so many positive effects of exercise but there are also so many things that can get in the way of exercising during this crucial recovery period. It is important to remember that taking time for yourself will help you to take better care of your children and family. If you are in the best physical and mental shape that you can be in then you can better take care of those around you.
Written by: L. Augustyn, Physical Therapist
Larson-Meyer DE. Effect of postpartum exercise on mothers and their offspring: A review of the literature. Obesity Research. 2002; 10 (8): 841-853.
Roy BA. Postpartum Exercise. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal. 2014;18(6): 3-4.
FB's Note: I know we sound like a broken record, but maybe one of the most important things you can do is listen to your body. Even within the recommendations you get from research articles, specialists, and your own doctor, listening to and respecting the messages that your body sends is paramount. Give yourself time to feel like "normal" again and be open to the concept that it might take you a while to get there - be patient. Having a baby is a very exciting, life changing event - don't let normal, natural body changes stress you out during this happy, exhaustive time. Help yourself feel great & set a good example for your kids by taking care of yourself with smart exercise and a healthy diet. Always talk to your doctor about your specific health care scenario and questions before starting any diet or exercise program, especially after pregnancy.